Man plugging an RV into shore power

RV Converter VS Battery Charger: What’s The Difference?

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Are you wondering what the difference between an RV converter vs battery charger is? We have you covered and break it down here.

If you’re new to the RV world and have been reading in a bunch of online forums, you might be confused by the different terms that are sprinkled throughout. Owning an RV (even as a weekend warrior) means that you will have to understand your RV’s electrical system and in some instances, need to troubleshoot it.

You’ve probably heard the terms “RV converter”, “RV invertor”, and “battery charger” when researching your electrical system. To save you the confusion, here is what you need to know about an RV converter vs battery charger.

What is an RV Converter?

Powermax RV converter
RV converter – Photo from Amazon

An RV converter is responsible for converting 120v AC power into 12v DC power.

But how does a camper converter work?

When you plug your RV into shore power or another standard electrical source, the RV converter reduces that 120v AC power down into 12v DC power.

If you don’t have a converter (they’re standard in newer RVs), then your RV batteries will supply the power to all your 12-volt accessories. An RV converter will recharge your batteries when you hooked back up to shore power. This reduces the drain on your RV batteries and lowers the risk of damaging them.

Types of RV converters

There are different types of converters out there. Here are the most common types:

  • Multi-stage – A multi-stage converter charges your batteries, keeps them at a consistent level, and shuts them off when they have reached an optimum level of charge.
  • High output – If you have multuple batteries that need to be charged or larger applicances running off your DC power, then a high output converter might be for you.
  • Deck mount – A deck mount converter can be installed on the deck of your RV.
  • Distribution panel – This type of converter is perfect if your older RV is in need of an upgrade. A distribution panel converter can charge your batteries and power appliances.

What is an RV Battery Charger?

NOCO RV battery charger
RV battery charger – Photo from Amazon

An RV battery charger is simply that – it charges your RV batteries.

Types of RV battery chargers

There are different types of battery chargers. Here are the common types:

  • Converter charger – This is a basic type of battery charger. And no, you aren’t reading this wrong, a converter charger is what we discussed above. In addition to converting 120v to 12v, a converter charger also charges your RV batteries.
  • Inverter charger – An inverter charger is what’s in most modern RVs. This device is very similar to a converter charger, it has the same features, but with one difference. An inverter charger produces 120v AC power from a 12v battery when there’s no shore power.
  • Solar-powered – Solar-power RV battery chargers recharge your RV batteries using sunlight.

So, What’s the Difference Between an RV Converter VS Battery Charger?

The two terms are used interchangeably because for the most part, in modern RVs, an RV converter charges your batteries and converts shore power to usable 12v DC power.

Simply, an RV converter is also a battery charger but with added capabilities. While a battery charger only has one function: to charge your batteries.

26 thoughts on “RV Converter VS Battery Charger: What’s The Difference?”

  1. That’s it???? This article is missing so much! I can see where it would confuse the heck out of me if I was new to this topic.

  2. Fantastic information. appreciate the simple explanation. Glade someone realized that not all people graduated with honors in electrical understanding. nor is that interested in over examination for just a personal or single purpose!

  3. A bit too simplistic and the distinctions are important.
    Firstly, it is important to note that there are two classes of low voltage DC power systems. ‘Automotive 12V’, which is most of what is in RV’s is designed to operate, ranges between 11.5V to 14.5V. The reason is, when systems containing ’12v batteries’ are charged, the system is subject to voltages up to 14.4V. ‘Regulated 12V’ equipment is designed to operate from a wall transformer or computer power supply that is NOT subject to battery charging voltages. In the case of this equipment, most will be damaged by ‘automotive 12v’ range of voltages.
    1) Most commonly, (older style) fixed voltage ‘converters’ produce 13.8V so that they can both power ‘automotive 12V’ appliances and charge the battery. These chargers do an adequate job of returning power to a battery but they rarely provide a complete charge which lead-acid batteries need to remain healthy.
    2) More modern ‘converter-chargers’ exist to improve battery longevity. They use a variable voltage output to provide a better charge to the battery (enhancing its ‘health’). They are different from a pure battery charger because they are designed to also provide vehicle power at the same time they charge. These units detect the system voltage to determine the state of battery charge then increase it to around 14.2V for a time to provide a full charge. They periodically pause and measure system voltage to reassess battery state of charge. When they have determined the battery is fully charged, system voltage will decrease to ~13.5 volts.
    3) Some inverters also include a separate set of electronics (a charger) that performs the same function as the ‘converter-charger’

  4. This article about the difference between a converter and a battery charger is misleading and wrong. The focus is the problem with this article. The difference between a converter and a battery charger is voltage/amperage control. A converter provides amperage at a fixed voltage, typically 13.6 volts, however, the voltage will be lower if amperage demand is greater than the converter can provide. A converter can charge batteries at a much slower rate than a charger, and can even overcharge if left for weeks. A battery charger provides amperage at different voltages depending on the charge state of the battery, typically 15.6 volts for equalizing, up to 14.6 volts for bulking and 14.6 volts for absorption, and 13.6 volts for floating.

  5. Thanks Jen for the article.

    Good video.

    But the article leaves a lot of questions! Such as, what is the best size of converter (35w, 45w, 55w, 65w) and are there any factors that would help me decide? Number of batteries? Time drydocking? 12v power demands? 120v power demands?

    I did not know that “most modern RVs” have an inverter charger! My camper is a decade old but my friend’s is 2 years old and neither have an inverter — and we wish they both did. I would hope at least the 2 year old camper would be considered “modern”, although I do feel like my 10 year old camper is also pretty modern! How do we retrofit an older RV that just has a converter charger to an inverter charger? Is it possible?

    Price comparisons would also be useful…it seems inverter charges are at least three times the cost of just a converter charger.

    Might have been useful to just describe basic inverter options (watts, pure sine vs modified sine, etc.) as those can be added to an RV fairly easily, and are also inexpensive if installed for just your most basic 120v needs. And if you go with a basic inverter, do we need a transfer switch?

    Last of all, if you don’t have enough battery capacity, or the right right kind of batteries (lead vs agm vs lithium, etc.), an inverter charger won’t last long if converting 12v to 120v for even the most basic RV needs. coul

  6. We are considering changing over to a 12v compressor refrigerator. Will I need to upgrade the standard converter installed in a 2008 Heartland

  7. My on board converter failed on the day that T.S. Elsa was due to hit Myrtle Beach. We were camped 150 feet away from the beach. All the 12 volt systems were draining the battery dry and the refrigerator igniter would not work.
    I made it to Walmart about 10 minutes before closing and bought a EverStart Maxx automatic battery charger and maintainer rated for 50/15/3 amps.
    I rigged it up under the trailer hoping that the 65mph winds and driving rain would spare the charger. My 12 volt systems were instantly restored to their full capacity. The storm hit us one hour later.
    That charger got us through one month of travel until we were staying long enough at a location where we could get a new converter shipped to us.
    I am going to carry that charger as a part of my regular equipment as a back up charging system. Not only does it charge, it senses what is needed to maintain the battery as 12 volt systems place demands on it.
    It worked PERFECTLY to both charge the battery and run everything as required.
    That should have been included in this article…. it was a little short sighted.

  8. I am still so confused. I have a 2001 class c. Only been out once. Behind the driver’s seat is an inverter or converter, not sure which. I know I can plug things into it. Do I use it when I am not plugged in? Or do my wall sockets still work? What do I use it for? Can you give me examples?

  9. If the Charging and Power Supplying are not done separately then the battery will never be fully or properly charged AND the power needs of the RV are subject to intermittent operation at the same time usually. The needs of the battery bank to be charged correctly for the battery type used and that is not the same output profile as is needed to run RV electrical needs most of the time. On the other hand for simple needs I have used modern multi-stage chargers with high sustained output ratings as a Converter too with no issues at all so YMMV as they say. This is not really too simple a subject overall and no really simple answer does it justice usually.

  10. Jennifer,
    I misfired and posted the largest of the 2 ‘anonymous’ comments. I’m not afraid to be called out on what I say. (BTW, I am a retired MIT mechanical engineer and former RV engineer). That is one of the risks you writers take when posting things that are outside your expertise or experience.
    In general, I find a lot of the pseudo technical articles posted on this site and several others by ‘amateur journalists’ to be, at best, weak and misleading, rendering them of poor utility. At worst, they are inaccurate (often, although unintentionally). I’m not suggesting that the article needs to be more technical. I’m suggesting it needs to be more accurate. The relevant technical points need to be made succinctly and clearly, and I believe that is what your audience wants too.
    It’s probably a much better idea to outline the purpose, then have a technical person explain the points to be made, which you can wordsmith. I’m not saying you have to be an expert but often, it’s clear to me the ‘pseudo technical’ articles are written by people who not only don’t understand the subject or the important points but don’t even have a basic grasp of the terms or issues involved. Then the question becomes, who is the editor reviewing these articles and what are they doing to improve the writing product? I’m not trying to be mean or malicious but I spend an awful of time debunking legends and opinions presented as facts. When you purport to be explaining differences, clarity and accuracy are important.

  11. Pretty useless as far as usable info goes. It does tell me I will be needing to do a LOT of research, before I will be getting solutions for my unit. I will be converting a high top van into a campers. There will be batteries (of course), and the power will be coming from them. The charging of said batteries will consist of a variety of sources (back up plans abound). Using the vehicle alternator, solar panels, a small wind turbine (a large advantage to that is it will product power, albeit not huge amounts, any time even a breeze turns it, and it will work day or night, sun or clouds), a DIY portable generator (with the proper exhaust system on a small 4cycle engine they can be made almost silent – regardless of utube videos). And last, and what I consider least, an outside power hookup, but which I will probably leave out.

  12. A converter is a smart battery charger. You could use a charger for an RV converter, but because of lack of regulation batteries may not last as long.

  13. Someone please go further and speak to the differences needed for lead acid batteries, gel cell batteries and lithium batteries. Thanks in advance.

  14. Originally when first introduced to Camping vehicles / RV’S, the converter did not charge the camper battery, it switched the battery out of the circuit and supplied 13v power for the lights, water pump, and heater fan, that is why they are called stilled converters, even though the rv converter is now a sophisticated battery charger as well as a DC power supply for the.rv appliances control circuits, florescent and led lighting, electric awnings and steps etc..

  15. How about noting the difference between an inverter and a convertor? That would clarify a lot of RV electrical systems….

  16. Forget every converter. Get a three or four stage charger that is adjustable to the kind of batteries in the RV. It will keep up to all the demands of every day RVing. OR better, but with more wiring, an Inverter charger. That will allow you to run the fridge on A/C while driving down the road. No more propane on while driving which is safer by far, IF involved in an accident.

  17. Hi Steve, I got your email and the attached edits. The purpose of the article was to be simplistic and I had no intention of posting an in-depth, technical article. The point I was trying to make was to let people who are starting their research know the difference between the two terms that they see within RV forums. This is simply a starting point in the reader’s quest for knowledge about their RV electrical system. Boiled down to the most basic, a converter converts the power from shore into usable power AND charges the batteries; a battery charger only charges the batteries. For a follow-up article, we could definitely get into the nitty-gritty details, but that was not the intent of this article.

  18. Jennifer,
    You still didn’t get the message. On a basic level, there is NO DIFFERENCE between a converter and a battery charger. BOTH convert the shore power into DC power and BOTH can simultaneously charge the batteries and run the 12v appliances. I have seen the same box marketed as a converter for the RVs and a battery charger for the boats.
    What your audience needs to know is that the older converters/chargers are compromises designed to do an ADEQUATE job of maintaining the batteries while you are plugged in for long periods, and charging the batteries quickly if your only AC power source is your generator. The the newer smart converter/chargers are designed to do a BETTER job of in both modes.
    The new battery technologies require new smart chargers, because the old lead acid batteries die faster if you leave them discharged, while the Lithium batteries die faster if you leave them fully charged. The latest smart chargers/converters are user selectable to deal with both battery types.

  19. Nice article, for the common RVer. When we spend $50,000 on a 5er we expect the stuff to work, not how it works. All of the comments are helpful if I was training to be an expert, but I’m not. So thanks – now I know to use a battery charger to charge the battery, and to use a shore line for all other reasons. If I have a problem I call an expert, I don’t want to be one.
    love your RVing and KISS.

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